Quiet Quitting

A viral trend, or here to stay?

The term quiet quitting really came to the fore in 2022. Born out of the experience many had during the COVID-19 pandemic, it generated traction through a variety of social media platforms. In short, the term is used to refer to employees who simply cover their basic job description – the bare minimum. These workers don’t go above and beyond their standard duties, simply sticking to the basics needed to achieve their monthly wage. Some employers and managers take it as a sign that their employee lacks ambition, is unmotivated, and perhaps is seeking alternative employment. These could all be the case, but quiet quitting’s viral roots suggest it’s Gen Z’s response to burnout after a global pandemic.

A TikTok video[1] released in July 2022 introduced the term to the masses and has accumulated nearly 500,000 likes since it was posted. More videos followed on various social media platforms, with discussions surrounding the new “phenomenon” also making their way onto numerous television shows during the second half of 2022. While quiet quitting may be viewed by many simply as a passing trend, the adoption of the attitude it promotes amongst a portion of the global workforce points to the reality that it’s not disappearing any time soon.

Viral sensation

The quiet quitting trend really did go global – even to the extent that the popular U.S. daytime television show Dr Phil dedicated an entire episode[2] to quiet quitting in September 2022. The episode included a debate with an employment attorney, a worker who is employing the trend, and various business owners, as they provided their opinions on whether quiet quitting was an attempt to regain a good work-life balance – or pure laziness. The employment attorney argued that quiet quitting sets healthy boundaries between work and personal life. Furthermore, he said that those who go above and beyond their role could almost become too valuable in their position to be promoted – gaining no more benefit than a quiet quitter.

Gaining traction

The COVID-19 pandemic put life into perspective for many people of all ages and stages in their careers. For the average worker, it may have enabled them to complete their duties from home, forced them to take a chunk of time off – such as the UK’s furloughed workers – or led to them losing their jobs altogether. All of these outcomes had varying levels of impact on an employee’s day-to-day life, posing a larger question of how people can readdress the work-life balance. Suddenly, employees felt that they could be relieved of their duties at any moment – so, why bother putting that extra effort in?

Quiet quitters beware

Adopting this trend could represent danger for employees, especially as its global renown means that many business leaders will be looking for signs of quiet quitters in their ranks. Ultimately, taking on this attitude may offer benefits in the short-term – but will likely hinder employees over the long term as they develop a tag that could follow them for years to come. Here are some of the biggest risks to employees who are quiet quitting.

Lack of progression: When quiet quitting, workers are simply doing the minimum and, as such, will not be recognised for their efforts. They won’t be considered for reward-based pay increases, bonuses, or general progression through the company ranks. In the short-term, the employee may not be too bothered, but over time, personal circumstances could see their attitude change drastically whilst the damage has already been done, undermining their very reputation.

Bad habits: Those who argue for quiet quitting will say that an employee is simply doing what they are paid to do, whilst those who are against this trend claim it is the result of a lazy attitude. Laziness is a negative habit that can easily hold employees back, and if their co-workers and managers believe that they are inherently idle, unwilling to show initiative or enthusiasm, they are unlikely to provide a glowing reference. Thus, laziness is a reputation that could follow and hamper a quiet quitter in their search for their next role and beyond.

Masking other issues: The feeling of disengagement from your work could also be a sign of something much deeper. From being burnt out by the nine-to-five routine to suffering from poor mental health, employees could be using quiet quitting to hide other personal problems. As such, they may end up isolating themselves from their colleagues, not speaking up at meetings, or generally ceasing socialisation at work, setting them apart from the community around them.

Losing your job: The ultimate danger looming over quiet quitters is losing their job altogether. This all depends on how effectively managers analyse employee performance and how in tune they are with their team as a whole. Disciplinary procedures could start as a result of individuals not going beyond the basic job description, as employee contracts have been known to include clauses such as taking on other responsibilities in-line with the business’s requirements.

Safeguarding measures for employers

Safeguarding against this trend is a key factor in any company’s success, as quiet quitting can have a profound effect on the overall office atmosphere while also impacting productivity levels and, consequently, profits. Remote and hybrid working was a big takeaway from the pandemic, and this is where quiet quitting can become even easier for employees. It presents numerous issues for employers, but there are safeguards they can employ to eliminate them.

Finding patterns: Quiet quitting will be more than a viral trend if managers and leaders can’t spot the signs and patterns in their employees’ behaviour. By checking in frequently with team members, managers can establish who is simply suffering burnout because they are taking on extra work – and who is actively doing the bare minimum. Look for those who take frequent breaks, distract themselves with their phones, or don’t speak up and get involved in meetings.

Engaging with your team: Quiet quitters are more likely to slip under the radar if they aren’t conversing with other colleagues or their managers. Regular engagement, whether it’s business-related or showing a personal interest, ensures that managers can assess their employees’ moods and motivations. A team member employing this trend can be turned around with a personable approach.

Goals and targets: Some employees disengage from their roles because they can’t see a benefit to extending themselves beyond their basic requirements. A lack of goals, targets, incentives, or the inability to see a path of internal progression could all contribute to an employee becoming a quiet quitter. Set accessible but challenging goals for the team to engage them daily, encouraging them to go above and beyond.

Annual performance evaluations: Going one step beyond setting goals and targets, annual performance evaluations can help employers recognise those going above and beyond their call of duty whilst also identifying and weeding out employees who are doing the bare minimum. It is, however, important to handle annual performance evaluations carefully to prevent harm being caused to team morale and, as a consequence, encouraging quiet quitting. For instance, a scoring system of three scores (i.e. needs attention, good, excellent) could have a detrimental impact. If a candidate feels they have gone above and beyond what is required of them yet still only achieves a ‘good’ rating, they may lose any incentive to match their effort levels the following year if they believe the higher rating is unobtainable. Instead, a tiered-system with greater flexibility may encourage employees to strive for a better performance score.

Internal analysis: It is good business practice for leaders to look internally at themselves and at their management team to see where improvements can be made for the sake of the wider team. Those who are quiet quitting are often looking for a better work-life balance, and offering a higher level of flexibility could be the key to getting increased productivity from them. Early Friday finishes, hybrid working options, and increased annual leave are methods of rewarding staff without having a negative effect on the business. Anonymous employee feedback surveys can also help to identify and address issues you may not even be aware exist.